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A Massachusetts Superior Court judge ruled that a fraternity may be liable in the binge-drinking death of a freshman because a special relationship between the parties may have existed. Relying heavily on a University of South Carolina case, Ballou v. Sigma Nu General Fraternity, 352 S.E.2d 488 (1986), Judge Linda E. Giles on May 18 denied summary judgment to defendant Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta Inc., facing a wrongful death suit filed by the mother of MIT freshman Scott Krueger. The student died in September 1997 after an “Animal House Night” pledge event hosted by the fraternity. The case is Diane Darlene Krueger, administratrix of the Estate of Scott S. Krueger, vs. The Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta, No. 00-4292-G. “[B]ased on the allegations in the complaint and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, this court believes that the plaintiff may be able to produce evidence, first, of a special relationship between Krueger and the [fraternity] sufficient to give rise to a duty of reasonable care on the part of [the fraternity] toward him, and a breach of that duty,” wrote Giles. Upon entering MIT in the fall of 1997, Krueger accepted a bid to “pledge” and moved into a fraternity house known as FIJI House in the Fenway. The FIJI House, or the Iota Mu Chapter of the Phi Gamma Delta, was an unincorporated association of undergraduate MIT students operating as a fraternity, affiliated with MIT and chartered by the Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta, also know as FIJI National, a corporation headquartered in Lexington, Ky. Students at FIJI House organized a pledge initiation night for Sept. 26. The students, all officers of FIJI House, informed 12 FIJI House freshmen, including Krueger, that they would be required to attend a mandatory, initiation-related event at the FIJI House. The freshmen were told that they would be expected collectively to consume a prescribed amount of alcohol provided by the FIJI House. The freshmen were instructed to drink two cases of beer and a fifth of whiskey by the end of a featured movie, “Animal House.” Krueger and the pledges complied. The freshmen were then instructed to share a bottle of alcohol with their “big brother.” Krueger and his “big brother” shared a fifth of rum. During the ritual, Krueger became ill, complained of nausea, began to vomit and slipped into unconsciousness. Two FIJI House residents carried him to a basement and left him there. Later that night, Krueger was found blue in the face and rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital. He died on Sept. 29, after being in a coma for 40 hours. Giles noted that this case shares “strikingly similar” facts to the Ballou case from South Carolina. In Ballou, the Court of Appeals of South Carolina noted that its state supreme court had previously held that a fraternal organization owed a duty of care to its initiates not to cause harm to them in the initiation process. The Ballou court concluded that the evidence there reasonably suggested that the fraternity, through its agents at the local chapter, created a “hazardous situation” by requiring the decedent to participate in frat initiation activities and breached its duty of care to the decedent. Wrote Giles, “This court finds the … decision in Ballou persuasive.”

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